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Harvard epilepsy expert is new neurology chief

Neurologist Gregory Holmes, M.D., will never forget the girl in his high-school class who had epilepsy. "She would have these seizures in the middle of class, fall on the floor, start jerking, and the teacher had no idea what to do," he remembers.

New neurology chief Gregory Holmes
Photo: MRRC Multimedia / Children's Hospital

"As students, we just had to ignore her. It was like she had leprosy, because nobody wanted to go near her. To this day, I still think about her."

Holmes has spent his entire career trying to understand and treat the brain disorder that afflicted his young classmate. Come November, he will be bringing his epilepsy research team to DMS when he becomes chief of neurology, succeeding the recently retired Alexander Reeves, M.D. (See page 5 for Reeves's retirement plans.)

Seizures: A professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, Holmes has been directing the Center for Research in Pediatric Epilepsy at the Children's Hospital in Boston. His work has focused on how seizures affect brain development.

Brains: Immature brains are less likely than mature brains to be physically injured by long seizures, he says, but repeated seizures in young brains can lead to permanent cognitive damage. Holmes's team has been developing neuroprotective agents that may, one day, be used to treat epilepsy patients.

He is also eager to integrate DHMC's clinical neurology programs with DMS's basic neuroscience research. "I don't think you can really separate the clinical aspects of neurology from the basic science aspects," notes Holmes. "Oftentimes clinicians do not really understand what's going on in the basic sciences, and at the same time the basic scientists really do not understand what's happening clinically. I think both would benefit enormously by a dialogue."

In addition to serving as neurology chief, Holmes will be on the advisory board of the newly established Neuroscience Center at Dartmouth. It will link all Dartmouth neuroscience experts under one umbrella, blending clinical neurology and neurosurgery, basic neuroscience research, and cognitive neuroscience research.

At DMS, for example, ongoing work on sodium channels has relevance for epilepsy treatment. "It's very nice to take a basic scientist who's been working with sodium channels, and may not even know that they're important in epilepsy, and show them a patient who has a seizure disorder— expose them to something they could actually help with," says Holmes.

Holmes earned his M.D. in 1974 from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and did residencies in pediatrics at Yale and in pediatric neurology at Virginia. From 1979 to 1986, he was on the faculty at the University of Connecticut Health Center, and he spent two years at the Medical College of Georgia before joining the Harvard faculty in 1988.

Boards: He has served on many editorial boards, as well as on National Institutes of Health committees, and has held leadership roles in professional societies, including as a member of the board of directors of the American Epilepsy Society. In addition, he has published hundreds of journal articles, abstracts, and book chapters and has traveled the world giving presentations on epilepsy.

Holmes and his wife, Colleen, a research nurse at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, look forward to moving to the Upper Valley this fall. They have two sons: Marcus recently graduated from the University of Virginia, and Garrett is a sophomore at Dartmouth College.

And what about that girl who may have launched Holmes's career? "She'd do much better today, thanks to a lot of the developments," he says. "We've come a long way, but we've got a long way to go."

Laura Stephenson Carter

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